P. Malar had to visit 10 schools before one finally agreed to take in her son. Most schools initially agreed but hesitated when she told them he had autism.
“They would say they wanted to see if he was ‘manageable’ before they agreed. I would ask them to allow a ‘shadow teacher’ that I would pay for to help him, but none of them agreed to that,” she says.
Ahead of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, an expert says inclusion, though widely talked about, is a myth when it comes to autism.
“All parents are keen to put their children in mainstream schools. Many refuse admission, but even with those that do take in the children, it generally does not work out. Invariably, by class V or VI, the child drops out. Very few manage to clear class X or XII,” says Gita Srikanth, head, We Can, a resource centre for autism spectrum disorder.
This happens due to a number of reasons. “A lack of resources, too few teachers who are trained to handle autistic children, and also, sometimes, the child just cannot handle academics. Bullying is also an issue,” she says.
For Shanthi, another parent, the experience with a mainstream school has been disheartening. “The school tried to be as accommodating as possible. But they lacked knowledge on what my child needed,” she says.
Also, the shadow teachers she employed for her child would run out of steam after a term or two.
Some autistic children with high functioning abilities do well in mainstream schools. For others, a support system needs to exist.
“Even if some children cannot be integrated in the academic part, it will be ideal if they can be included at play time in regular schools. A major problem with autism is lack of social skills. Only if they get to interact with other children from a young age, they will learn how to be social — a crucial life skill,” said Ms. Srikanth.
Sangeetha Madhu, a clinical psychologist, says inclusion may not be the answer for all autistic children.
“Ideally, inclusion helps. Those in the milder end of the spectrum could benefit from a mainstream school, but for those with moderate to severe autism, it may not be possible,” she said.
Inclusion does not mean forcing the autistic child to be as ‘normal’ as possible.
“It means training peers and teachers and society to interact with a child or adult with autism. They struggle every day to cope. Society needs to take a step forward for them,” says Sharada Rajaram, also of We Can.
have been changed.
Some autistic children with high functioning abilities do well in mainstream schools. For others, a support system needs to exist